In 1986, when he was a 26-year-old master's degree student studying public health education at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, John Burklow trained with NCI's Office of Cancer Communications in what is now the Health Communications Internship Program.
How did your training experience at NCI prepare you for the job you have today?
During my internship, I worked on public health education campaigns to promote smoking cessation and healthy eating. The advantage of being at NCI was that there was never a shortage of new and interesting projects. For example, in 1990, I co-chaired the Sixth National Cancer Communications Conference, along with American Cancer Society leadership. The 3-day conference included 800 attendees from 40 countries. It was a tremendous opportunity for me to work with senior professionals in the field and hone my negotiation and planning skills.
What are the most valuable skills you gained while training at NCI?
By the end of my 13-year tenure at NCI, I had worked in media relations, issues management, program evaluation, and office management. The most valuable skills I learned during my internship and subsequent employment were how to take initiative, lead change, work effectively with widely diverse personalities, and strategically advance the overall mission of the agency through communications. Paul Van Nevel was my mentor and the associate director for cancer communications for more than 25 years. I learned a great deal about leadership and the world of communications from him.
Why is training, such as that offered by NCI, so important to the NIH mission?
If you look at the roster of graduates from the NCI communications internship program, you'll find them in leadership positions across government, academia, and the private sector, nationally and internationally. The training helps prepare individuals to serve not only the NCI mission, but also the entire health communications field. It also allows time for orientation and learning about the world of medical research, and how the pieces fit together. Consequently, I believe training programs, such as the one in communications, play an important role in developing well-rounded professionals who have a strong sense of mission, an openness to change and growth, and a focus on results.